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  • Writer's pictureLynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH

Multiracial and Interfaith - Celebrating Intersectionality & Overcoming Conflict

Intersectionality refers to the overlap of each of the identities that we hold true - our racial identity, gender identity, ethnicity, sexuality, abilities, professions, experiences, hobbies, family roles, religious beliefs - anything that is core to our being.

Think about a few of the layers of my identity and how each sentence below changes your understanding of who I am:

I am a mom.

I am a White mom.

I am a White, college-educated mom.

I am a White, college-educated mom living in Colorado.

I am a White, college-educated mom living in Colorado but born and raised in rural Wisconsin.

I am a White, college-educated mom living in Colorado but born and raised in rural Wisconsin, and have two multiracial kids.

I am a White, college-educated mom living in Colorado but born and raised in rural Wisconsin, have two multiracial kids, and love to ride my bike.

Each new sentence added a layer of who I am and your understanding of who I am likely changed as each layer (intersection) was added.

The intersection of your identities is what makes you, you.

For multiracial families, this intersectionality shows up all the time - we are multiracial, yes, but there is so much in addition to our racial identities that make us unique. One element that offers extraordinary complexity to many of our families is when our families are also interfaith - meaning that we hold various religious or spiritual views. When supporting our multiracial and interfaith kids, we need to be intentional about supporting their multiracial identity and how they do (or do not) share religious and/or spiritual beliefs and identities with us.

The research/review paper for today seeks to elevate conversations around the intersection of interfaith and multiracial families. While the paper doesn’t present new research, it reviews the work that has already been done and helps to connect all the dots on the topic. This paper is very comprehensive, so we will focus on the findings around communication as this is relevant for all of us. Namely,

Safe, nurtured, and supportive environments for communication are critical for our interfaith and multiracial kids as they grow into their self-identity.

Healthy communication allows our families to navigate conflict and grapple with the complexity of deeply-held beliefs that are formative in our identities as parents, and the identities of our kids. When our loved ones hold an alternative religious perspective, deep listening and willingness to understand the world from their perspective allows us to connect and support our kids to identify their own beliefs.

When family members do not have support to openly discuss their religious views they may feel that this element of their identity is not accepted or appreciated, or they may become defensive or feel threatened that others do not accept them for who they are.

The paper shares the idea of “accommodative communication” which works toward intentionally discussing differing perspectives, rather than ignoring these differences. Families that are able to find similarities between family members and also sit comfortably in their differences most often can weather conflict that comes their way.

If our mixed families are interfaith or not, we can certainly all understand the need to be comfortable with, and celebrate, our differences.

When we think about supporting our multiracial kids, we need to be aware of how their identities intersect and how this influences who they are. We need to create safe and intentional space for accommodative communication so that our kids know we are supportive as they navigate their identity journey. We love them today as we will love them tomorrow.

Subscribe to the Samahra App (link below!) for daily reading and reflection for parents of multiracial kids and guidance on topics such as interfaith and multiracial identity development.

Article Link (note that this article is behind a paywall. For the full article, reach out to Dr. Colander at

Citation: Warner Colaner, Colleen, et al. "Communication in Interfaith and Multiethnic-Racial Families: Navigating Identity and Difference in Family Relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (2022): 02654075221137317.

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

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